Friday, February 29, 2008

Question & Answer With Chana Jenny Weisberg - One Size Fits All?

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

A friend recently told me a story how he learned that he must use different a technique to motivate each of his children.

Returning home one night after work, he decided to give his kids an incentive to get their homework done quickly. "Once you get your homework done, we can all go out and get some ice cream!", he excitedly told them.

His daughter eagerly and instantly complied and completed her homework in a short period of time.

His oldest son completed his homework after repeated prompting and prodding to hurry up.

His middle son ignored his father. When reminded that he would not be getting any ice cream unless he finished his homework, the son replied, "I don't want ice cream" - thereby removing any power the father had over him.

Have you been successful to find the unique motivation technique for each of your children?

Chana Jenny Weisberg answers:

Every parent wants to raise children who fulfill their responsibilities with a feeling of joy followed by a sense of well-deserved satisfaction.

It is often difficult for young children to feel that joy without parental encouragement to sweeten the new skill they are learning. Different children will face different challenges that parents will need to be at the ready to sweeten. One child has difficulty sharing, another clearing her plate after lunch, and yet another has difficulty finishing his homework quickly, like the child in this example.

Because children are different in personality as well as age, every parent will need to be creative and attentive to figure out how to motivate every unique child in a positive manner.

Here are two ideas about motivating children based on stories from my own parenting life:

1. Age Appropriate Encouragement- My 3rd grader was recently having difficulty remembering to recite blessings before she ate. I thought back to my parenting class, and remembered that our teacher had suggested that every time a child recites a blessing, the parent should encourage the child by calling out with a lot of excitement, “You made an angel!” since every time a Jew does a mitzvah, that creates an angel.

The next time we had a meal together, I decided that every time a child said a blessing out loud, I would call out, “You made an angel!”

My younger children loved it, and started saying all their blessings in a loud voice, and got a wide, proud smile when I said that they had made an angel. But when I saw my 3rd grader picking up a piece of food, and I called out in my best nursery-school-teacher voice “Make an angel!” she became very upset. “You’re talking to me like a baby!” and she began to cry with her head in her hands, and ran out of the room.

Children of different ages require different motivational strategies. The Rambam discussed this issue when he described how to motivate children of various ages to study Torah. “When a child is young, the parent should give him nuts and honey and dates. When he grows older and rejects these small gifts, the father should give him fine clothes, and when he grows yet older and rejects these, the father should give him gifts of money. Afterwards, when he grows still older, the father should say, "Study Torah and you will become a leader and be called Rabbi.’ And afterwards he should say, "With Torah you will merit paradise.’ And when he becomes wise, his father should train him to learn Torah for its own sake.”

I decided to try a different strategy more suited to my 3rd grader. I bought a bag of chocolate chips, and before the next meal I placed a row of cups on the table with the name of each child written on it. Every blessing recited out loud resulted in two chocolate chips in that child’s cup. My 2nd grader got excited about this idea, and while her younger siblings eat their chocolate chips every evening after dinner, my 3rd grader saves up her chocolate chips for weeks at a time. At present she has 85 chocolate chips in her cup (I know because she counted them last night), and is planning to eat them all Erev Pesach!

2. Ask the Child- I had a child in kindergarten who would wake up at dawn, long before her siblings, but would play with her dolls and draw, and would not get dressed. All of my other children would wake up, get dressed, eat their breakfast, and would be all ready when it was time for me to take them to school. But my kindergartner was never ready on time, which resulted in a lot of nagging by me and crying by her and stress for the Weisberg family all around.

Some days I tried to motivate my kindergartner by promising her a note for her teacher. The promise of a note worked at times, but mostly it didn’t. Then I bought her some special chocolates wrapped in shiny yellow wrapper at the store. The promise of a chocolate worked a few times, but then they lost their effect as well.

I had no idea what to do. The situation went on for months and months, and it was only getting worse and worse. Then one day I was sitting with a friend in the park, and she suggested something so simple, so obvious, but yet very, very smart. She said, “Why don’t you ask your daughter what to do so she could get dressed in time?”

That very evening I sat down with my daughter on the sofa and had a talk that we should have had many months before. My daughter suggested that we create a sticker chart. For every five mornings she gets ready on time, she gets a prize from the dollar store.

You can already guess the end of the story. With that motivation, my kindergartner became the first family member dressed every morning. To this day, several years later, that child always is one of the first children to get dressed, and has never once missed the school bus.

At this point, I would also like to make a side point that probably a lot of readers are asking themselves. “If you give the child a prize/treat to do something, won’t that child become dependent on prizes/treats to do what they need to do?” This is an excellent and very valid question.

But as the Rambam assured us a thousand years ago, and as I have seen without exception in my own parenting experience with dozens and dozens of sticker charts etc., if done correctly, the prize/treat phase is just a bridge to ease the child into a new way of doing things. After a few weeks/months the child forgets about the prize/treat, but continues the new behavior.

One last note in this topic. When a child is difficult to motivate through positive means, our first instinct is often to turn to anger and yelling. There is a place for strict discipline in parenting, but the ratio of negative to positive methods should be like the ratio of salt to sugar in a cake recipe. Or the amount we use our right hand vs. our left hand when hammering a nail into the wall. We need the left hand to keep the nail steady and straight, but the vast majority of the force comes from the right hand. And this is the way it should be in parenting as well.

Raising children is a big challenge and a tremendous privilege as well. Each and every Jewish parent is helping to mold the next generation of the Jewish people. We build our children, and our children build us. This is the work that Hashem gives us in the world to serve Him.

Chana Jenny Weisberg is the author of the newly-released book One Baby Step at a Time: 7 Secrets of Jewish Motherhood and the creator of the popular website

23 Adar (1) Links - כ"ג אדר א

(Painting by Isaac Besancon)

Sfas Emes: VaYakhel 5635 First Ma'amar

HNN: Only Waiting Again?

Rabbi Yaakov Haber: I hit the kid

Long Beach Chasid: Exposed Tzitzis & the Arizal

Burying Ashes - A Book Printed In Berlin In 1905

eBay listing:

"Chayei Olam": A gathering of letters regarding the issue of burying ashes of those who had their bodies burnt instead of buried. This is a very controversial topic. The author, Chief Rabbi of Altona, Rabbi Meir Lerner, wrote this book as a response to another work, entitled "Cheker Halacha" by Rabbi Chanoch Ehrenthrau.

Becoming A Butterfly

The essential point is that living beings do not undergo sudden, complete transformations. The caterpillar does not become a butterfly in a single act but as a result of a gradual process, governed by certain laws. Within the process there appears to be a series of jumps between distinct stages, and these the baal teshuvah must make from time to time. But these transitions, too, are neither as quick nor as sharp as they appear. Sudden entry into the world of Jewish religious life is a rare phenomenon for the simple reason that these changes are highly complex. The acceptance of Judaism is not a matter of one-time affirmations or moments of revelation. Such transitory experiences can be important as turning points, but in Judaism they can only serve as the starting point of a very long journey.

(Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

22 Adar (1) Links - כ"ב אדר א

(Picture by Vitron)

Life in Israel: Sderot: Dodging the Kassam

The Muqata: Unfinished Post: R' Yehuda Bar Ila'i (part 1)

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Shalom Bayis

Shturem: Guru Offers to Streamline Chabad Operations

Eizer L'Shabbos: Purim preparations in Tzefat

I Broke Down Crying When I Saw This

A machine used to grind down human bones in Janowska.
(Picture courtesy of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War - Kiev)

Janowka Sonderkommando 1005 with the machine in Janowska

Deceptive Appearances

One must not rely on appearances, for even if someone appears blameless one never knows what is in his mind. The rule to remember is this: If someone refuses to benefit from the property of others – and needless to say from stolen property – and if he deals with others in good faith, then he is undoubtedly upright and honest.

But if he kisses his tefillin while he prays but does not deal with others in good faith, then one must stay as far away from him as possible. For the main test in which fear of Heaven and righteousness are put to the test is with regards to money. Whoever stands firm in his righteousness in monetary matters can be considered truly righteous.

(Kav HaYashar #52)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Question & Answer With Yehoshua Halevi - Photography & Hashgocha Pratis

A Simple Jew asks:

On your website you highlighted a quote from Ansel Adams, "Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter." Indeed, photography essentially relies on hashgocha pratis; being in the right place at the right time and taking notice of something that perhaps another person would not.

As a professional photographer do you find that there is a difficulty to balance the pressure to take pictures and the flexibility to simply allow a picture to be revealed to your eyes so that you may capture it with your camera?

Yehoshua Halevi answers:

I think every artist faces two kinds of pressure. There is pressure from within, to satisfy the creative thirst to express something meaningful or aesthetically pleasing or, on rare occasion, to combine those two goals in one work. Even when I'm working on personal projects - and even when I'm shooting outdoors in nature - at times when one might expect there to be less pressure and more opportunity for those special images to reveal themselves, there is that inner drive pushing me to create. As a visual artist, I also attempt to see certain images in my mind before I capture them with my camera. So even when I'm not shooting, I'm processing ideas in my head. This inner pressure, then, never totally relents for me.

The second kind of pressure is that which is exerted externally, such as by deadlines or working under duress at a simcha or other fast-paced event.

Professionals learn over time how to cope with both these types of pressure so that it doesn't impede the creative process. One thing I've learned to do is trust my instincts. When there's no time to think about a shot, you take it based on "feel." When this fast pace sustains itself, you simply develop a rhythm and work through it. More importantly though, is the effort I have made to develop my visual skills. This is not so much seeing as it is being aware of what you are looking at and its potential to be a good photograph or to become a good photograph in the ensuing moments. This is similar to previsualization but it's more spontaneous in reaction to what is going on around you. My experience of taking thousands of photographs every year has enhanced my ability to see and respond very quickly when I begin to see a photo take shape. So, in a sense, the pressure to work quickly has forced me to hone my anticipation skills to a point where the photos actually do continue to reveal themselves. Only most of the time it's happening so fast that the job of the photographer is simply to be ready for them when they show up.

My photograph "Song of Ascent" is a perfect example of this process. I was told by the subject from the start I only had a minute or two to get my photo. So right away I felt pressured and because I recognized that this was an extraordinary opportunity, I felt additional pressure not to lose a great shot. I had been thinking about an image of this type for weeks while preparing for the trip. Although I knew in my mind's eye what I was looking for, I still needed about 10 photos to position the subject and then myself to create the point of view that makes him appear to be standing above the clouds. The moment it came together, I felt it and only needed one shot to bring it home.

So, yes, it is extremely difficult to strike this kind of balance. At times, the pressure is overwhelming and it definitely affects the quality of my work. At other times, I feed off its energy and actually create better work. In the end, I generally don't complain about the conditions and try not to always be so goal oriented. That's one of the reasons I enjoy photographing in nature. Even if I don't return home with a single satisfying image, I can still take solace in the time I was able to spend outdoors. And when I'm being paid to shoot, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to earn a living at something I love so much.

A Simple Equation

(Picture courtesy of

I confess, before I opened up Degel Machaneh Ephraim this morning I fell into the "gotta" not the "getta" category.


Cognitive dissonance.

Although I understood the explanations and read commentaries on the meaning of Birkas Hamazon, I still viewed it as an obligation rather than a privilege.

This morning that all changed when I saw the Degel's explanation. He wrote that quite simply bread is parnossa.

I know that to many of you who are more learned than myself that this does not sound like such a earth-shattering revelation. Well, it was enough to shatter my cognitive dissonance.

Making this connection between my livelihood and the bread that I eat finally helped me understand that by bentching after I eat bread helps to ensure that the channel of blessing that enables me to support my family is unobstructed.

This insight also helped me understand the "rationale" behind the prohibition of throwing bread (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 42:9), the disposal of left-over bread crumbs (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 42:11), and why it is important to follow the minhag of only eating Pas Yisroel bread during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 130:2).

Thanks to the Degel's simple equation, I view bread and bentching in a whole new light.

Now, you can count me in the "getta" category.

21 Adar (1) Links - כ"א אדר א

(Picture by F. Grubacki)

Dixie Yid: Should One Focus on Understanding His Yetzer Hara

A Fire Burns in Breslov: The Order of the Service

HNN: בני ברק: אלפים השתתפו בשמחת בר המצווה

Beyond Teshuva: Inspiration in Everyday Life

A Good Heart

All of Judaism and avodas Hashem depends on a good heart.

(Pele Yoetz)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Lazer Brody - The Benefit Of The Fall

A Simple Jew asks:

In his book "The Garden of Yearning", Rabbi Shalom Arush explained that when we attempt to get closer to Hashem and wind up stumbling and falling it can actually be beneficial to us since it dispels our delusional thinking and provides us with a true indication of exactly where we are holding:

"When a person doesn't succeed in one of life's tests, then he should thank Hashem profusely for not giving him false success, illusions of grandeur, and spiritual levels that he does not deserve. The greatest joy is recognizing one's own reality - where we stand and our task at hand."

Could you elaborate a little more on this teaching from Rabbi Arush and explain how it is an really and act of Hashem's kindness to let us succeed only when we are truly worthy?

Rabbi Lazer Brody answers:

Imagine that you're in the army. You've been through basic training, advanced infantry school and NCO school, and now you've earned your corporal's stripes (2). Yet, you'd feel a lot prouder being a platoon sergeant, and strutting down the street with 4 stripes on your sleeve. But there's a problem - you're not yet qualified and you haven't yet fought in real combat situations. Still, like a spoiled child, you want your 4 stripes right now. If your commander is totally daft, he gives them to you, puts you in charge of a platoon, and throws you on the front lines. Inexperienced, chances are that you'll not only endanger your life, but the lives of another 50 soldiers too. Is that what you want? Certainly not. When Hashem holds back the promotion, it's the same deal - we're not ready, and we might do damage to our souls (with arrogance, illusions of grandeur, etc), G-d forbid. Hashem doesn't want that. So, like a tough (but devoted and caring) commander, Hashem trains us and tests us until we're ready for the new madrega.

Freedom & Release

Children must be provided with other forms of kosher relaxation and entertainment that will grant them emotional satisfaction and give them a legitimate and helpful outlet for their pent-up emotional needs. Excessive pressure and limitations on children are generally counterproductive to the spiritual growth we seek for them and often result in undesirable emotional outbursts. By providing a relaxed atmosphere and by addressing the child’s need for a sense of freedom and release, we can allow ourselves to place limitations on him in other areas of major spiritual import as well as with regard to diligent Torah study.

(Nesivei Chinuch)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Returning To The Deeper Water

(Picture courtesy of

In March 2007, Yitz of Heichal HaNegina asked me how long I would continue learning Ein Yaakov in place of Gemara. At that time I answered,

"The Sudilkover Rebbe did not specify an amount of time to continue learning Ein Yaakov. He did think it was a good for me to learn it for some time to wade in the shallow pool before I actually go swimming in the deeper water."

After receiving a reminder via a comment from Yirmeyahu on Sunday, I asked the Sudilkover Rebbe for his advice again on this issue. The Rebbe gave me a brocha that I should be matzliach to complete all of Shas and responded that indeed I could put aside my Ein Yaakov and start learning Gemara where I left off.

Tonight when I return home, I plan to take my Gemara back off the shelf and open it up to Taanis 17b.

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - In All Places

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Upon hearing his question, I immediately thought about this story regarding the Shapira brothers sitting in a prison cell next unable to daven since they were sitting next to pail full of human waste.

"Why can't Hashem go into our bathroom?", my three year-old asked me as I tucked him into bed.

He was obviously thinking about why I stopped him from saying brochos and singing other tefillos while sitting in the bathtub earlier that night. At that time, I explained to him that we don't say brochos or say Hashem's name in the bathroom because there is a toilet in this room and it is not a clean place. Obviously he misconstrued my explanation to mean that Hashem was prevented from entering a bathroom.

While Halacha instructs us not to even think about Hashem or His Torah in a bathroom, if "Hashem is truly everywhere" as Uncle Moishy sings, is He still present but heavily concealed in a bathroom, brothel, or a place of idolatry?

Dixie Yid answers:

I brought your question to my Rebbe and, as a starting point, he immediately pointed me to a teshuva (responsa) in Lev Avraham #23, by R. Avraham Weinfeld. He adressed the question of whether the six constant mitzvos are really constant or not. (The six constant mitzvos are 1) To believe in Hashem. 2) To not believe in anything else other than Hashem 3) To believe in Hashem's Oneness 4) To fear Hashem 5) To love Hashem and 6) Not to pursue the passions of your heart and stray after your eyes) Do we have to think about these six things all of the time literally? Or is it that any time we think of them, that it is a mitzvah. And are they really constant? Isn't it asur, prohibited, to think about Torah in the bathroom? If we are not allowed to think about Hashem's existance, or love or fear of Hashem in the bathroom, then in what sense are they really "constant," "temidios?"

He said that for many reasons, he holds that it is not merely permissible to think about Hashem (or any one of the 6 constant mitzvos) in the bathroom or some other unclean place, but that "we have no right to exempt ourselves from them, even in a place where it is forbidden to think words of Torah!"

First, he proved that the six constant mitzvos are not constant obligations. A person is only capable of thinking one thought at a time. If one had to think about these six things all of the time, then it would be impossible to think about more than one of them at a time, much less about any other mitzva, like limud haTorah, which requires great concentration. Rather, he says, these six constant mitzvos apply at every single second, and there is not even one moment in which they do not apply. Anytime a person thinks about them, he does a mitzvah, but he does not have an active obligation to think about all six at every moment, which would be impossible.

He told the story brought by Rav Isaac of Acco (1250-1340), the author of the "Divrei Chaim" in the sefer "Otzar Chaim." He told over that his Rav was sitting in a Din Torah, a Rabbinic court case, with two other Rabbonim, which the sides had chosen. While they were intently analyzing the Torah's law, with a Choshen Mishpat open on the table, one of the two other Rabbonim at the table, all of a sudden, became very excited and called out, "Master of the world! The One, Only and Unified!" And the Divrei Chaim's Rebbe rebuked the Rav. When one is toiling in Torah, he must spend all of his attention on the deep analysis in the Shulchan Aruch and Ketzos Hachosehen. Rav Weinfeld gathered from this story that one must certainly not be obligated to actively think about Hashem's existance at every moment.

However, as Rav Chaim Volozhiner wrote in Nefesh Hachaim (Shaar 4 perek 7), that before one begins learning, he should focus his mind by thinking for a short period of time about his creator. And that every in the middle of learning, a small interuption is permitted so that a person can prevent all Yiras Hashem from being forgotten, due to his concentration in learning Torah. I posted an article recently by Rabbi Boruch Leff on this topic, as it relates to implementing the teachings of the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, while learning.

Not only that, he says that according to many opinions, even the isur, prohibition, of learning Torah in the bathroom is rabbinic, not biblical. He brings down the machlokes, dispute, in the Yerushalmi (Brachos 3:4): "מהו להרהר בבית הכסא חזקיה אמר מותר ר' יסא אמר אסור א"ר זעירא כל סבר קשי דהוה לי תמן סבירתיה א"ר אלעזר בר שמעון כל ההוא סברא קשיא דטבול יום תמן סבירתיה." "May one think [words of Torah] in a bathroom? Chizkia says it is permissible. Rav Asa says it is forbidden. Rav Zeira says that any svara (logical explanation) that I can't understand, there [in the bathroom] I understand it. And so too, Rebbe Elazar b'Reb Shimon said that any svara regarding T'vul Yom that he couldn't understand, there [in the bathroom] he understood it." Rav Weinfeld clarifies that it goes without saying that these Amoraim kept the prohibition of not learning Torah in the bathroom on purpose, regardless of whether the prohibition is rabbinic or biblical, but that these chiddushim (novella) in Torah came to them accidently. Since they were so immersed in Torah, it was literally impossible to stop "thinking in learning" for them, and so they were exempt for that reason.

Nonetheless, we can see from this teshuva, that not only is Hashem equally present even in unclean places, but one can and should think about His existance, unity and love even in those places. Although we don't think about Torah or say divrei Torah in the bathroom because it is forbidden as a show of respect and kavod, thinking about Hashem's existance and presence is not only permitted, it is a mitzvah, in fulfillment of one of the six constant mitzvos.

Note: There are diverging opinions on this issue and individuals should consult their own competent rabinic authority before relying on this psak.

19 Adar (1) Links - י"ט אדר א

(Picture courtesy of

Revach L'Neshama: The Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah

Mystical Paths: Successful Learning, Thank You!

Circus Tent: I Thank Tzemach Atlas

Dixie Yid: Seeing The World Through the Eyes of Heaven

Eizer L'Shabbos Purim Campaign

Mishenechnas Adar Marbim Besimcha - When the month of Adar arrives, joy is increased!"

These days have come, and Purim – the festival synonymous with simcha and happiness – is right around the corner. Please take a moment to help bring joy and support to the families of the Holy Land, and take this opportunity to fulfill the Mitzva of Matanos Levyonim. Here in the Holy city of Tzfas there are numerous men, women and children that live amid great hardship and are faced with a daily struggle for basic necessities – you can help make a difference in their lives.

Eizer L'Shabbos has been serving the Tzfas community for years now, distributing food and financial aid to needy Jewish families of all kinds, and because we don't have offices with personnel and administrative or promotional costs, the funds you give go entirely to helping those in need. This year the crunch is especially hard; the economy in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, coupled with a weaker US dollar, has had a significant negative impact on raising much needed funds for these families.

The Torah tells us, "If there is a needy man among you in one of your gates, in the land which Hashem has given you, do not harden your heart nor shut your hand to your needy sibling" (Devarim 15:7). You can fulfill this passuk literally! And this act of charity does not only help the Jews of Tzfas as we know from the Navi Yeshaya: "Tzion b'mishpat tipade, v'shaveia b'tzdaka ( Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and her returnees, though Tzedaka)." So, please, keep the Jews of Tzfas in mind – and may we all celebrate this year amid joy and happiness, and may the merit of the Tzedaka bring the ultimate joy and celebration of redemption to the world!

The Purim package will be filled with the following items.

Fish, Chicken, Meat, Salami, Soy shnitzel, Yerushalmi kugel, Cereal for the kids, Nosh and Chocolates.

Each package is $70. The nosh is sponsored, so it's not included in the price. We want to give packages to over 400 family's, please help us.

You could sponsor any of these items:

Fish: $4,400

Chicken: $4,400

Meat: $5,500

Salami: $2,200

Soy shnitzel: $3,300

Yerushalmi kugel: $1,500

Cereal for kids: $3,300

Those wishing to help Eizer L'Shabbos in its important work may send their tax-deductible donations to:

Eizer L'Shabbos
5014 16th Avenue, Suite 319
Brooklyn, NY 11204


With happiness you can give another person life! There are people who suffer terrible pain but cannot express what is in their heart. They would like to speak about their suffering but they have nobody to whom they can explain what is really in their heart. This leaves them full of pain and anguish. When you come to such a person with a smiling face, you can literally give that person life. To give a person life is not an empty gesture. It is something very great.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears - Returning A Favor

(Picture by Dinu Mendrea)

This amazing story involves a close friend of mine and his family -- and I even had the zekhus of playing a small part in the unfolding drama.

When one of my friend's sons was seventeen or eighteen, he started to rebel, eventually leaving yeshiva to work briefly in Manhattan. His father had always been especially close with this son and had taken great pride in watching him grow into a ben Torah. However, after enrolling in a new yeshivah, the young man fell under the influence of some of the "cool guys" there and eventually fell into a yeridah, a spiritual tailspin.

One day, the father told me, he was sitting on a bench in Rav Moshe Bick's mikveh on 55th St. Almost everyone had left, and the only other man in the changing area was a Chassid a little younger than himself, whom he didn't know. My friend began to brood as he sat there, soon loosing touch with his surroundings. Suddenly the other man spoke up, disturbing his dark reverie.

"You don't know me," he began, "but I know you. I remember when you first came to this neighborhood, and I saw you in shul and wondered, 'Who is this choshuveh yungerman who davens and learns so sincerely?' Then a couple of years went by and I saw you change to the way you are today -- so sad and broken. 'What happened?' I asked -- and they told me 'tzaar gidul banim,' he is having trouble raising his children. So I want to tell you something that you may not know. Some of the most ehrlicher Chassidisher people in this community had bad years when they were teenagers. They did whatever they did -- but you should see them now. There are no better Jews! And their wives, who were the same thing, today light the Shabbos candles like their heiligeh babbas, with such yiras Shomayim! So don't be broken-hearted. Your bochur will turn out all right, just wait and see…"

My friend thanked the stranger, ashamed to look him in the face. "My goodness," he thought, "am I in such bad shape that total strangers are talking about me?" Then he quickly finished dressing and left the mikveh.

Thank G-d, the stranger's words were prophetic. This young man eventually got married, and he and his wife turned into the most ehrlich couple of all their peers. Today their parents couldn't have more nachas from them and their children. However, my friend often wondered as to the identity of that Chassid who had given him chizuk when he needed it so badly. There was one fellow who davenned in the same shtibel with him on Friday nights whom he suspected, but he was diffident and could not bring himself to approach him. So he asked me to approach him. I was reluctant, too.

One day I wound up conversing with this man about something, and saw my chance. I asked him if he had been the one who had spoken to my friend in Rav Bick's mikveh several years previously, and he admitted that he was.

"My chaver would like to thank you," I told him. "You don't know how much you helped him -- and that everything came true, just as you predicted!"

The man's eyes widened.

"I don't believe this," he stammered. "You are thanking me for giving chizuk to another Jew -- and right now I am going through the same thing with my teenage bochur, who is the apple of my eye! He quit yeshiva and went to Eretz Yisrael, and now he is running around with some other bochurim like him, doing who knows what. But today HaShem is sending my chizuk back to me. This can't be an accident. With G-d's help, he will turn out all right, too!"

With great emotion, the man thanked me profusely, and I conveyed his words to my friend (who no longer lived in the neighborhood). When I saw the Chassid some time later, he confirmed that his troubled bochur had had major spiritual breakthrough not long after our conversation and was now back "on track." "Cast your bread upon the water, and soon you will find it!" (Koheles 11:1).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Question & Answer With Yirmeyahu - Sanzer Chassidus

A Simple Jew asks:

How does the Sanzer approach to Chassidus differ from the approach of other groups?

Yirmeyahu answers:

I must preface my answer with the unequivocal fact that I cannot claim to speak of Sanz Chassidus, or any Chassidus, but I’ll share my thoughts as an observer.

The question of what is unique about each Chassidus is a bit ambiguous, much as the question of what is different about Chassidus from non-Chassidic Orthodoxy. It can be easier to perceive the difference than to articulate them. The differences that aren't "superficial" are generally those of emphasizing common values differently.

Nevertheless it seems to me that there is a clear focus, Sanz Chassidus emphasizes the unequivocal primacy of traditional Torah learning.

I am not certain that, had you asked this to the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy'a, that he would have conceded that there is a difference. While the Besht extended opened arms to the uneducated this was not meant in the slightest to depreciate the value of traditional Torah study. "The disciples of the Besht expended much effort to do "kiruv" by teaching all Jews to return to Teshuvah and educate their children with proper Chinuk. However, the inner circle of the disciples of the Besht were Gaonim in learning. Most held important positions and disseminated Torah learning amongst the masses." (Derech Chaim, end of chapter 11). Compare this to the words of the Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 5, 24, 6).

The Rebbe zy'a continued discussing the importance of classical Torah study in chapter twelve of Derech Chaim. There he cites one of the earliest Chassidic authorities, the Rebbe Reb Elimelech who says, "First and foremost, a person must study Gemara with Rashi, Tosafos, and other commentaries, each person according to his abilities. This should be followed by the study of Poskim, beginning with the study of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim." (Seder Hanhagos HaAdam).

Baruch Hashem, today there are many great classical works on Chassidus that can help us draw closer to Hashem. The Chassidic world has also produced some important Sheilos u'Teshuvos, Responsa literature. One very important work is the sh'ut Divrei Chaim by the Admor from Sanz. In it contains a very important psak on adopting Nusach Sefard. It also has noteworthy teshuvos in connection with constructing Mikvaos and other topics. The Divrei Chaim's son, HaRav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam zy'a also has a number of Teshuvos which have been attached to his work the "Divrei Yechezkel". The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy'a published seven volumes of teshuvos under the title "Divrei Yotziv". Another work of responsa called "Yashiv Yitzchak" has been published by HaRav Yitzchak Shechter shlita, a Rosh Yeshiva in Kiryat Sanz. "Divrei Moshe" is a work of Responsa by the prominent Posek and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Divrei Chaim in Yerushalayim, HaRav Moshe Halberstam zt'l, who passed away recently. The "Divrei Yoel" and the "Minchas Eliezer" also have ties to Sanz.

The first Admor of Bobov, HaRav Shlomo Halberstam zy'a,who had been raised by his grandfather the Divrei Chaim of Sanz founded the first Yeshiva in Galacia. Prior to then students learned in small groups in the shteiblach. While the Divrei Chaim noted and supported this phenomenon, the first Rebbe of Bobov recognized that with the rise of the haskala the structure provided by a traditional Yeshiva was necessary.

The Klausenberger Rebbe zy"a founded Mifal HaShas, a program where men would study 20, 30, or seventy blatt of Gemara a month on which they are tested. The stipends are tied to test performance. Shortly after my conversion, when my wife was pregnant with our son whom we planned to name after the Rebbe zy"a, we spent several months in Beitar Illit. At one point I asked some friends we had make what they knew about the Rebbe zy'a since at the time finding such information was much more difficult than even now. My friend pointed out the street we both lived on was named "Mifal Hashas" after the Rebbe's program. Although I had read of the program I hadn't been familiar enough with the term to make the connection.

I think Sanz-Klausenberg has been very successful in maintaining focus on traditional Torah learning as a prerequisite for Chassidus. But I do not think anyone in Sanz would claim that this is the exclusive domain of Sanz Chassidus but rather essential to Chassidus.

"You Don't Delicately Peel Away Layer By Layer"

(Picture courtesy of

missing the obvious

In Their Youth

Often do we see that those children who were deemed problematic in their youth grow into Torah personalities of stature. Their complexity and the fact that they were different was a result of their innate potential for greatness.

(Nesivei Chinuch)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - Minhagim Under the Magnifying Glass

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

In an e-mail conversation five years ago, you wrote me these words: "After having spent many, many hours studying such customs about 15-20 years ago when I could have been learning Chassidisheh seforim, I have come to the conclusion that this sort of thing is of minor importance and is not what the Baal Shem Tov came into the world to teach Klal Yisrael."

I recently shared this thought with Rabbi Ozer Bergman and he replied: "I concur. Yiddishkeit is about the mind (i.e., attitudes, beliefs and emotions); the minutiae of minhag have little if any meaning without understanding what they are supposed to reflect. Before Chassidic seforim, it is MUCH more important to study and know Shas and poskim, Zohar and Midrash. All Chassidic seforim are based on them, and many of the rebbes assumed their readers would know them. A talmid chakham can get a lot more mileage out of a Chassidishe sefer, than can an am ha'aretz."

It would certainly seem that most Chassidim do put great emphasis on minhagim. Do you think that Breslov inherently differs from them in this, or that this is a recent development for all Chassidim?

Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:

Actually, this is a complex issue. First of all, minhagim account for a substantial part of halachah and are not just "icing on the cake," as we see from the Maharil, Rama, etc. Yiddishkeit is pretty conservative about these things. Historically, changes in minhagim were usually driven by extremely powerful forces -- such as the popularization of kabbalistic minhagim of various sorts, especially as the works of Rav Chaim Vital and his rebbe, the Arizal, caught on among both Sefardim and Ashkenazim. So the changing world-view of the Jewish people was the key factor here.

This overlaps with the growth of the Chassidic movement, which also entailed massive ideological change and the formation of new kinds of chaburos (brotherhoods) and kehillos (full-fledged communities). Minhagim are social and psychological "binding agents," whatever else they may be in terms of halakhah or kabbalah.

I think the Chassidim empasized their own special minhagim mainly for ideological reasons -- to strengthen the movement and derekh in avodas Hashem -- and only secondarily for kabbalistic reasons. After all, the medieval Chassidei Ashkenaz (German-Jewish pietists) were great mystics, and their customs were basically consistent with Ashkenazic customs prior to the Baal Shem Tov / Maggid of Mezeritch / Reb Pinchos of Koretz, etc.

It seems that there was always a certain amount of guilt or at least conscience about this issue, too. Most Chassidic leaders were reluctant to break with their pre-Chassidic roots, and tried to harmonize tradition and innovation. For example, there are plenty of regional Litvishe minhagim in Chabad; regional Ukrainian minhagim in Chernobyl and Skver; the Komarna Rebbe is staunchly loyal to Ashkenazic practice and nusach ha-tefillah in trying to find legitimate ways to make kabbalistic modifications; and the Minchas Elazar takes a similar approach, although his conclusions are different.

As for the minhag-centrism you mentioned, a few Chassidic groups have placed tremendous emphasis on their own minhagim, while others are more easy-going and stress different aspects of communal life and Yiddishkeit (such as singing and creating their own niggunim, or studying certain Chassidic texts, or davenning a certain way, etc.).

Cherbobyl-Skver, Belz, and Lubavitch seem to be vying for the lead in the minhagim olympics, while most other communities fall into the middle zone. The Breslov community is definitely among the least emphatic about special minhagim; from the research that R' Dovid Zeitlin and I have done, it seems that there have been many changes and variations regarding minhagim in Breslov over the generations. Yes, we have a few real, bonafide minhagim, and many time-honored traditions and hanhagos tovos, worthy practices. But what gets the high voltage in Breslov is following the Rebbe's advice in avodas Hashem, learning the Rebbe's seforim, intense davenning, hisbodedus (secluded meditation and personal prayer), and following the inner path. In a way, this means that kehillah life -- while undeniably important, as in any Chassidic group -- is not really the focal point in Breslover Chassidus. The old fires of personal mysticism are still burning, and there is still some wiggle room for less conformist spirits. This has its pitfalls, too, as we see from some of the bizarre characters that turn up in Uman. But all things considered, a little hefkerus seems worth the price when matched against the alternative of religion by assembly line.

15 Adar (1) Links - ט"ו אדר א

(Picture courtesy of

Thoughts In The Making: My thoughts…in the making

The Curious Jew: Albert Bitton

Beyond Teshuva: Ultra Orthodoxy: Not So Inclusive Just Yet

Modern Uberdox: My penchant to rant…

Dixie Yid: Rav Weinberger on Purim Katan

Life in Israel: breaking into Shchem in the middle of the night

Adar & Tzedaka

The time for giving tzedaka for Eretz Yisroel is the month of Adar.

(Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Guest Posting By Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Practical Azamra

(Picture courtesy of

"Every Jew is a chelek Elokah mima'al, a 'piece of G-d above.' It is absolutely inconceivable that any Jew is truly wicked. The only reason a wicked person seems totally evil, chas v'shalom, is because we are blind to his good points."

These are the words of Rav Avraham ben Rav Nachman regarding Azamra, the only lesson that Rebbe Nachman exhorted his followers to "go with" every single day. As Rebbe Nachman taught, "Most people are distant from Hashem primarily because of feelings of depression brought on by their sins, and so they don't even do the good they easily could... Therefore, one must continuously search for good points and attain vitality and happiness through them..."

But this is easier said than done. How is one to find the good points in oneself, let alone anyone else?

Another even more pressing question is: Isn't it likely that the bad outweighs the good even within an average person? Certainly, the bad in a person who appears wicked in our eyes outweighs the good? So what is there to be happy about anyway? So what if I find a dinged and dented good point, or even a few of them? How can they compensate for all the bad?

This question is not only on Rebbe Nachman but the Talmud as well. Does not the Talmud state that even the sinners among the Jewish people are filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds?

Not surprisingly, the Ramchal's explanation of this Chazal sheds much light on Azamra. He writes that every soul must have spiritual sustenance to survive after death. However, in Hashem's kindness, even a little spiritual sustenance is enough to prevent a soul from being completely destroyed. Only a soul that truly lacks good has no spiritual life force and dies. Chazal meant that Providence protects Jews and ensures that every Jewish soul always has the minimal amount of good and is ensured vitality after death.

Rebbe Nachman explains that every good deed is forever. Rav Nosson even brings the Zohar which states that, "no good desire is ever lost," to explain Rebbe Nachman's emphasis on the importance of holy yearning.

Rav Avraham ben Rav Nachman takes this to its logical conclusion. Every good point is eternal and every sin, no matter how serious, is finite. As is well known, in Jewish tradition there is no such thing as eternal purgatory. Either one is cleansed for a limited time or, if there is no redeeming feature like in the case of Amalek, one is destroyed. Therefore, even the smallest good deed or sincere desire outweighs the greatest sins. Not that the purification process for any sin is fun in this world or the next. Why not rectify our sins through teshuvah while there's still time?

He explains that this is also the rationale behind Rebbe Nachman's famous declaration: "It is a great mitzvah to always be joyous!" The joy in our good points is a very potent method to heal the spiritual sicknesses of "weaklings" like ourselves, who populate the present generation.

The only difference is in the quality and potency of the connection. Every spiritual gain is wealth beyond measure in the next world. But every spiritual loss is also a loss for all eternity.

The Ramak uses a similar rationale to explain why good doesn't cancel out bad. After all, one might question the need to suffer the cleansing of the bad only to be rewarded afterward for all the good. Why not remove the suffering by canceling out some good instead?

He compares this to a priceless gem that got soiled in the dirt. No matter how soiled, one would never just "junk" the gem. It is worth any effort or toil to remove the dirt and keep a valuable jewel. How can one exchange any spiritual gem of eternity for the dirt of sin that can simply be removed?

Every single good desire or act is with us for all eternity. If we search honestly, we will find literally thousands of good points in ourselves and everyone else.

Now that we understand the power of every single good point, we can understand why if someone appears to be truly evil it is only because we have not searched enough for the good points.

How did we fail to see the good within him? How could we think for an instant that his bad outweighs even one good point?

One time Rav Nosson was telling over Azamra. As he made each point, his disciple Rav Nachman Tulchiner repeated after him in a fiery undertone, "Avadah, avadah. Absolutely, absolutely!" When Rav Nosson noticed he turned to him and said, "You think this is so easy? I will explain the difficulty in this. Don't forget that Rebbe Nachman states in the lesson that through practicing this lesson on others they are truly lifted up to the side of merit and repent their sins. If we followed this teaching properly, we would be able to bring the entire world to teshuvah.

Once someone asked Rebbe Nachman: what about a rasha gamur? How can one possibly see the good in him?"

"How can you even say that about another Jew?" Rebbi Nachman cried, "He surely has some form of good point in which he is not wicked!"

Hashem should help us fulfill this holy teaching and bring ourselves, and the entire world, to repentance!

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky's blog A Fire Burns in Breslov can be seen here.

14 Adar (1) Links

(Picture courtesy of

Mystical Paths: Aliyah Update: The Humor, The Angst

Dixie Yid: A Boy Becomes a Man

Life in Israel: Profiles in Judaism: Egged bus driver

Beyond Teshuva: And so it begins…

Treppenwitz: Faith in human nature

The Artwork of Issachar Ber Ryback

More of Issachar Ber Ryback's artwork can seen here.


Hashem resides inside a good heart.

(Degel Machaneh Ephaim)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Question & Answer With Avakesh - The Mirror

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

You once commented that your children are "a mirror in which you see yourself - both in behaviors they provoke in you and in the character tendencies, strengths and defects that they inherit from their parents."

How has seeing the reflection in this mirror influenced you to make any changes in your life?

Avakesh answers:

It is often said that children are a gift. They bring us immeasurable pleasure, nachas, and fulfillment. There is no greater gift than being able to give to and stand by a soul in formation, to be able to contribute and shape, to give and to transmit to our children that which has been entrusted and transmitted to us. Humans resemble Hashem when occupied in this task.

However, children also challenge us. They are small and vulnerable, dependent and trusting; also selfish and exasperating. They are often impatient and demanding. They have their own small agendas and they care nothing for ours. Their occasional acts of unexpected generosity can bring great pleasure - because they are so unexpected. In so many ways they tempt us to resort to controlling them to our own ends, and if we do so, we have failed as parents, as human beings, as servants of Hashem. We have taken from them the freedom to which they are entitled and in doing so have surrendered some of our own. Of course, understanding of limits is something that we must ingrain in them but because that is a part of their growth and not of our convenience.

These little people that God gave us to cherish and to grow must not be controlled. They must be tended, watered and planted. Parents are stewards. It is precisely in the daily acts of unselfish giving, of transcendence of the self, that we are given an opportunity to grow without measure. Every time that you do not snap, do not threaten, do not manipulate their developing minds and trusting souls because it suits and benefits you, you rise - and opportunities for growth are there daily, constantly, unremittingly. Truly, there is no greater opportunity to grow beyond self-interest than by taking care of small, dependent and trusting little beings according to their needs and not ours.

However, there is another aspect to this. Our children are often like us. Our personal failings and predispositions, things that we deny or choose to ignore within ourselves, stare at us, irritate us, confront us every day. Impatience, indolence, strong headedness, you name it, often has genetic roots. Some parents easily relate to a child that is like their spouse but detest another one, who is like themselves. Not only is this destructive and,... well, evil; it is also a missed opportunity for self-transcendence. How can we help our children develop and overcome faults that we deny in ourselves? Only by coming clean about them! Thus, the greatest gift that we can give our kids is truth.

When I said that out children are mirrors of ourselves, I meant two things. First, they put us to daily tests and constant challenge to rise above our interests and toward theirs. Secondly, and even more importantly, as their faces trustingly turn toward ours, every day and in every interaction, the soul that is looking from their eyes into yours is your own.

13 Adar (1) Links

(Woodprint by Solomon Yudovin)

Revach L'Neshama: I Told You Already 399 Times!

Mystical Paths: Meet the Future Peace Partner

A Fire Burns in Breslov: Don't Push!

Breslov World: An Interview with Shuli Rand

Mystical Paths: Down In The Sewer

Too Busy

So many children are angry at their parents because at the special moments when gates were opening for them, the parents were too busy with something else to notice.

(Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bears & The Ba'asher Hu Shom Principle

(Picture courtesy of

Last year, I asked a question about a midrash in Parshas Ki Sissa that I found troubling concerning why Hashem judged Michah and not Yishmael according to deeds he was destined to do in the future.

I noticed recently that this this phenomenon is also continued in Nach with Elisha's curse of boys who were taunting him:

"And he went up from there to Bet El. He was going up on the road and some little boys came out of the city and made fun of him, and said to him, "Go away, baldy; go away, baldy!" He turned around and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of Hashem. Then two bears came out of the forest, and tore apart forty-two boys from among them." (II Melachim 2:23-24)

Me'am Lo'ez comments,

"When Elisha looked at the children who came out to tease him, he saw by the spirit of prophecy that they were devoid of any good deeds and weak of faith. The word נער'ם "boys" can also be interpreted as מנוער'ם "shaken out" and therefore empty. They were empty of the only thing of worth, good deeds. The word קטנ'ם "little," alludes to how small their faith was.

Some say that Elisha saw that all of them had been conceived on Yom Kippur. Their parents had violated the holiness of that day, when it is forbidden for man and wife to have intimate relations. As their beginning had been in sin, so, Elisha saw, their end would be. He cursed them not in anger in vengeance, but because he saw that no good would ever come of them. It was their evil nature that had brought them to behave so nastily, and it would continue to produce wickedness as long as they lived....Though Hashem fulfilled Elisha's decree, He did not entirely approve, and Elisha was eventually to suffer for it."

I noted in my previous posting that Rashi's commentary to the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16b states that a person is judged according to his present deeds (ba'asher hu shom) and not according to any deeds that he may be destined to do in the future. If this is indeed the case, why did Hashem send two bears two kill them as punishment? The manner in which they were conceived was beyond their control. Did their mere taunting of Elisha warrant a death sentence? Elisha, unlike Moshe Rabbeinu (see Rashi on Shemos 2:12), did not even determine whether any of the descendants of these boys would be tzaddikim, rather, he based his decision on his knowledge that these boys would never do teshuva in their lives.

Perhaps I have confused myself and tied my brains up in knots with all of this, however it seems to me like there is no standard application of the "ba'asher hu shom" principle. Space Cadet once said, "We must be willing to accept the fact that the answers may be on a different plane than the questions."

Is that the case here as well?

Yet To Be Ignited

Even if one is presented with a child who is intellectually unmotivated and emotionally and spiritually insensitive, one should realize that these are temporary obstacles, the result of his soul-fire having yet to be ignited. In every Jewish child there flickers a spark of Divinity - the deepest expression of the Jewish soul waiting to be kindled and fanned into a blazing flame of sanctity.

(Nesivei Chinuch)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Black & White Picture Of The Week - Brick Shadow

Friday, February 15, 2008

Question & Answer With Michoel - Attempting To Overcome Illness

(Painting by Raphael Eisenberg)

A Simple Jew asks:

There are occasions when a person is sick and feels so weak that he cannot stand-up to put on tallis and tefillin or even have the mental fortitude to learn Torah while laying in bed. In Likutey Moharan I, 268, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that ilness is caused by the neshoma's distress that the person has some how failed to focus on his ultimate tachlis (purpose) in life.

Knowing the intentions of one's heart, Hashem can tell whether or not the bed-ridden person is still longing to do mitzvos and learn Torah despite his illness. Hashem may even see this sick person try to garner up enough strength to make an attempt to serve Him despite his dizziness or nausea.

Is it possible that it is precisely these attempts and the longing a person feels which helps him to recover rather than any medicine that was prescribed to him?

Michoel answers:

I think it is clear that spiritual longing is the best medicine and definitely helps bring about a refuah. We see that even by completely non-religious Jews and non-Jews, a happy attitude and goals can help a person get through even serious illnesses like cancer. So certainly when a Yid has a deep longing for Hakadosh Baruch Hu and His mitzvos, it can strengthen a person very much.

The tricky part is that one gets sick, perhaps because of his lack of spiritual focus. But then, the sickness can cause his focus to further deteriorate. Sometimes one needs to just call out “Hashem! Pull me out of this pit! I want to want You but due to my aveiros I have sunken and become sick and now my ratzon is weakened. Help me please to be m’orer my ratzon!”

Hashem is the Yodea Ta’alumos who knows our ratzon, and our ratzon for ratzon, and our ratzon for ratzon for ratzon until the zillionth degree. And he knows what we are capable of. In the zchus of our calling out to Him and wanting to do his will even when we are sick, and exhausted, He should bentch of all with good health and long live, together with all the Yidden. And He should help us to maintain our spiritual levels so that we don’t revert of our spiritual and physical illnesses so that we can all serve Him b’leivav shalem.

Degel Machaneh Ephraim - Parshas Tetzaveh

It is known that the Torah is eternal and binding for every person in every age. Hashem, in His great kindness, has given me insight into the question how we can observe the mitzva of not detaching the Choshen from the Eiphod in this generation.

The word "Eiphod" (אפד) has the same numerical value as the word "Peh" (פה) - "mouth". Detaching the Choshen, that was worn over the heart, from the Eiphod thus is separating the heart from the mouth. It is possible for us to observe this prohibition even today by ensuring that our mouth and heart are always in harmony and that there is never be a separation between them.

It is known that the Urim and Tumim barely contained all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as Chazal have said. Therefore, when they had to ask a question that used two or three of the same letters, such as "Should I go to Bavel?" (האלך לבבל), how were they answered? There is a very great secret to this.

I received an answer from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov] about this. He said that each of the twenty-two letters contains within it all the other letters of the alphabet, with the exception of the letter mem. Since Hashem commanded that all twenty-two letters be inscribed on the Urim, when the kohen would be enwrapped in Divine inspiration, the letters would shine in their expanded forms. This enabled them to receive everything they needed to know.

Adar & Tishrei

Adar, even more than Tishrei, is a particularly auspicious month to do teshuva. While Tishrei is a time for teshuva from fear, Adar is a time for teshuva from love.

(Chidushei HaRim)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another 40 Days - Reopening The Notebook - Part 2

Continued from Part 1 here:

Since implementing the preventative countermeasure, I never again had to pay a fine to tzedaka. I seemingly was making great strides in my battle against my anger.

A few days later, both my wife and I came down with the flu which kept us laying in bed for days. I chose to view this illness as a nisayon that indicated that I had indeed made it to another level with its commensurate greater the level of difficulty.

Just as my health started to return, my wife's health started to deteriorate. I returned home after my first day back to work and found my wife asleep sitting up in one of the kid's rooms. Toys were strewn all over the floor and the kids were busy wildly jumping like leap frogs from a rocking chair to their bean bag "lily pads". It was just the type of chaos that normally would have set me off but somehow that evening I was able to maintain my composure and keep my anger in check.

That night I came to the realization that a fundamental prerequisite to applying Azamra to my kids was that I could never allow myself to think of my kids as ungrateful little monsters even at the time that they misbehaved the most; I must utterly banish such thoughts just as one attempts to banish outside thoughts during davening. I understood that once I allowed my mind to place a temporarily negative label on one of my children I would be more prone to react out of anger.

In his posting on finding good points, Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum wrote,

"When you're burning with anger against someone in a situation in the home, at work or anywhere else, take a moment to disconnect yourself from your emotion and your immediate perception of that person and instead try to connect yourself to the goodness that you believe must lie within them."

I attempted to translate this sentence into its practical application in my home. At times when I found myself becoming angry, I forced myself to mentally recount the misbehaving child's good points....kind hearted, thoughtful of others, helpful, etc. While this did not preclude me from having to be firm and discipline the misbehaving child at times, it did help me keep my emotions in check when I did so.

On day 38, my oldest daughter repeatedly attempted to drag everyone in the family down with her foul mood and misbehavior; apparently this was my final exam. I did not yell at her, put her in her room, or even act out of anger. I was able to let my actions be guided by a practical insight that I saw in Derech Mitzvosecha the day before. In Ma'amar Mitzvas Gid Hanasheh, the Tzemach Tzedek explained that anger is mochin d'katnus (constricted consciousness) and patience is mochin d'gadlus (expanded consciousness). Repeating the words "mochin d'gadlus" almost inaudibly, I forced myself to cut through any of my clouded thinking and remember that I needed to let my actions be guided by intellect and not impulse. Indeed, just saying these simple words proved to be an effective "segula" and helped me easily recall the tachlis of what I was trying to accomplish.

Before Pesach two years ago, I wrote, "I am also going to make a renewed effort to rid all traces of this anger in my heart." Looking back now I realize now that this goal was way too grandiose and unrealistic. Indeed, Rabbi Shalom Arush taught that it was impossible not to get angry,

"Since a person comes to this earth for the purpose of soul correction, it's virtually impossible to avoid situations that stimulate feelings of anger. Hashem puts us against all types of people and events that are not to our liking; with emuna, we realize that everything is from Hashem and for the best. Without emuna, we're dangerously susceptible to anger."

Understanding that an attempt to achive absolute perfection in this area is a recipe for insanity and utter frustration, I have now set a more realistic long-term goal of simply trying to keep my anger under control on a day-to-day basis. I can honestly say that these 40 days have been days of tremendous growth for me towards this goal. Despite my previous misconceived notions about the effectiveness of using a notebook to help me in this area, I can unequivocally say that it really works. A person using this technique can certainly elevate himself to higher levels and make great strides in achieving his goals.

Although my 40 days came to an end on the 29th of Shevat, I continue to daven each day that I will be successful to take the lessons I learned from following the Rebbe's advice with me always.

8 Adar (1) Links

(Paiting by Ketti Camus)

Dixie Yid: Unifying the Disperate Parts of the Self (audio shiur)

Life in Israel: Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Sderot

Dixie Yid: Understanding the Yetzer Hara - The Screwtape Letters

Modern Uberdox: Overthinking music that I grew up with


May we be encouraged and confident that though an earnest effort for self-improvement, we can literally renew ourselves.

(Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another 40 Days - Reopening The Notebook - Part 1

After completing the first 40 day plan, I spoke to Sudilkover Rebbe on the phone about my experiences. He told me that he read my posting, gotten tremendous chizuk from it, and planned to share it with others who came to see him. The Rebbe then told me he wanted me to start another 40 days to concentrate on the second column of my notebook. From what I had repeatedly written down during the previous 40 days, it was evident what my greatest challenge was; anger.

You may recall from last year that overcoming my anger and having more patience with my children was also my resolution from Rosh Hashana for the new year. However, if I were to hold myself up to strict accountability and grade myself on my progress since then, I would say that I had only progressed from a C+ to a B-.

Although I may raise my voice on occasion, I never hit my children and never scream at them. If they really misbehave, I respond by saying, "That's 1." At the count of three, I pick them up and put them in their room for a few short minutes to show them that their behavior is unacceptable. Afterwards, I don't lecture them, I just let them come downstairs again. On a good day, I only have to count for them to correct their behavior, and on an extremely bad day I might have to put them in their room two or three times.

Whether I am strict or lenient when they misbehave I never get the feeling that I am completely doing the right thing. Sometimes my 3 year-old son comes over and wildly runs and jumps around in the kitchen and family room. A tinge of anger goes off in my mind and I grab him to stop him with a grip that is a bit harder than I would like to admit. It is that tinge of anger that I experience that bothers me. If my wife notices me doing this, she immediately stops me. While I am always grateful that she does, I still feel shame that I acted out of anger.

The Sudilkover Rebbe instructed me to use my notebook and once again divide it into three columns so that I could write down the good points for each of my children each day. He then told me to read what I had written down out loud before I said Krias Shema al HaMita before going to sleep each night.

When the Rebbe first told me this advice, I told him that in my experience that my success or failure with my children on a daily basis seemed to be completely out of my control since success raising children is ultimately in Hashem's hands. I could start the day with the brightest smile, the kindest words, and never-ending patience and still have a day that backfired on me inevitably resulting with me loosing my temper. Whether I did everything right or everything wrong, I could still end up with the same result.

The Rebbe listened to my objections and the stressed once again the importance of using the notebook. He mentioned that he too was not on a level where he considered using a notebook to be beneath him. I ceased my objections and told him that I would start this 40 day plan on that very day. While logically I could not fathom how I would be successful by following this new advice, I decided to put my brain aside and accept his words with the simple faith that indeed there must be something to them.

When I got home that evening, I got the notebook out from the drawer of my nightstand, divided the page into three columns, and started writing down their good points. Immediately, I realized that if I was going to be successful I would need to take the advice I gleaned from the lesson I learned in this posting, and apply it to my children. I also recalled a teaching that I had come across while learning Midrash Pinchas a few days prior regarding the words בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ - peace and pursue it from Tehillim 34:15. There Rabbi Shmuel Voltses, a talmid of Rebbe Raphael of Bershad, taught that to make peace a person does not need to initiate a elaborate global campaign to bring world peace. Rather, he should simply focus on establishing peace with the children in his home and thereby bring peace into his world.

In order to ensure my success, I also resolved to give $18 to tzedaka for every occurrence where I grabbed my son or older daughter out of anger. Before I returned home each day, I would diligently remind myself that there would be a penalty if I lost my temper and I would ask Hashem for help to be successful that evening; keeping in mind the Pele Yoetz's observation,

"It takes great understanding to fathom the workings of a child's mind and to deal with him appropriately."

I spoke with the Sudilkover Rebbe on the phone shortly before he returned home to Ramat Beit Shemesh and gave him a progress report up to that point. I explained my tactic of instituting a fine and also suggested that I might need another 40 days when I was done because of my limited progress controlling my anger with my children. The Rebbe responded,

"Let me tell you something, by using the notebook you are making them better."

Having reviewed Likutey Moharan "Reish Peh Beis" numerous times since he first advised me, I understood that the Rebbe was referring to the concept that one can literally elevate a person when one he judges them favorably and seeks out their good points.

Perhaps it was my conversation with the Rebbe that day that reinvigorated me, however, later that night my wife complimented me how well I had dealt with our kids and their outbursts earlier that evening. This was the very first time I could recall my wife ever making such a comment to me. I didn't know whether to attribute it to the fact that I was just simply in a good mood that day or whether I actually had made a breakthrough. Was it possible that my breakthrough with anger had just occurred 14 days after starting the Rebbe's 40 day plan?

Part II is continued here.